The New York Times reported that President Bush and other Republican lawmakers were moving to return or donate to charity campaign contributions by lobbyist Jack Abramoff in the wake of his plea agreement. However, the Times omitted any reference to the more than $100,000 Abramoff reportedly raised in his capacity as a Bush-Cheney campaign "Pioneer," which the Republican National Committee, apparently speaking for the Bush campaign, said the campaign has no plans to donate or return.
A January 5 New York Times article reported that President Bush and other Republican lawmakers were moving to donate to charity or return campaign contributions by Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff in the wake of Abramoff's plea agreement, the carrying out of which, the lobbyist said, could implicate as many as 60 lawmakers and staff, according to The Wall Street Journal. However, the Times article omitted any reference to the more than $100,000 Abramoff reportedly raised in his capacity as a Bush-Cheney '04 campaign "Pioneer," which the Republican National Committee (RNC), apparently speaking for the Bush campaign, reportedly said the campaign has no plans to donate or return. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said that the RNC will donate to the American Heart Association the $6,000 contributed directly by Abramoff, his wife, Pam, and a single Abramoff client; McClellan directed questions about the $100,000 bundled contributions to the RNC. In contrast to the Times article, reports in The Washington Post and Newsweek.com mentioned Abramoff's Pioneer status in the campaign and Bush's refusal to relinquish the funds Abramoff raised.
Anne E. Kornblut and Abby Goodnough wrote in the Times:
President Bush and senior Republican lawmakers moved on Wednesday to dump thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Jack Abramoff, the former lobbyist, hastily distancing themselves as he pleaded guilty to two more criminal counts under his agreement with prosecutors.
Mr. Bush will donate $6,000, the amount he received from Mr. Abramoff, Mr. Abramoff's wife and a lobbying client in his re-election campaign in 2004, to the American Heart Association, a spokesman said.
However, The Washington Post reported that the Bush-Cheney campaign has no plans to similarly discharge the bundled contributions raised by Abramoff, the sum total of which is reportedly well over $100,000, and quoted RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt as saying, "At this point, there is nothing to indicate that contributions from those individual donors represents anything other than enthusiastic support for the [Bush-Cheney] re-election campaign."
As the Post reported on May 16, 2004, Abramoff was one of 64 lobbyists in a group of more than 300 Pioneers and Rangers who bundled individual contributions for Bush's 2004 presidential campaign. To earn Pioneer status, individuals raised $100,000 or more for the campaign.
Bush's campaign first organized a bundling system in 1998 as a way of formalizing a process whereby individuals could take credit for raising sums of money far beyond the then-$1,000 individual contribution limits set by campaign finance law. Individuals could raise additional contributions from friends and associates and bundle those contributions together and forward them to the campaign. The system expanded significantly in 2004, with the implementation of a four-digit ID code for each prospective Pioneer or Ranger. Individuals were credited only for checks carrying their individual ID numbers.
Abramoff told The New York Times in July 2003 -- more than a year before the election -- that he had already raised at least $120,000 for Bush. Though his final bundled total has not been released by the Bush-Cheney campaign, his status as Pioneer would indicate that it was less than $200,000, the threshold for Ranger status.
From the January 5 Washington Post article:
Abramoff raised more than $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, making him an honorary Bush "Pioneer." But the campaign is giving up only $6,000, which came directly from Abramoff, his wife and one of the Indian tribes the lobbyist represented. The money will be donated to the American Heart Association.
The gesture was criticized by the watchdog group Public Citizen, which called for an accounting of all the money that Abramoff had raised for the campaign.
"President Bush needs to ... reveal just how much money Abramoff raised for him and who that money came from," said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch.
But McClellan contested any suggestion that Abramoff's fundraising had won him any special favors or access.
"If someone thinks that money is coming in with strings attached, it doesn't get in the door," he said.
From a January 4 Newsweek.com commentary by Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey:
Yet the Bush-Cheney campaign is returning only a fraction of the campaign contributions it received with Abramoff connections. During the 2004 campaign, Abramoff was a top fund-raiser for the Bush re-election effort, raising more than $100,000 for the campaign. While exact figures on how much he raised for the campaign aren't known, Abramoff told The New York Times in July 2003 -- months before active fund-raising began -- that he had already raised $120,000 for the Bush-Cheney campaign. "And I haven't even started making phone calls," the lobbyist told the Times. An Orthodox Jew, Abramoff was considered an important intermediary between Jewish groups and the Bush campaign, which worked heavily to make inroads with the voting bloc. When fund-raising began for Bush's re-election effort, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, a prominent Seattle radio host and activist, urged friends and colleagues to steer campaign checks to Bush via Abramoff.
For now, the Bush-Cheney campaign has no plans to donate or return funds raised by Abramoff from other individuals. "At this point, there is nothing to indicate that contributions from those individual donors represents anything other than enthusiastic support for the [Bush-Cheney] re-election campaign," RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said.